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The Faraway North: Scandinavian Folk Ballads Paperback – June 25, 2016
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About the Author
Ian Cumpstey lives in Cumbria in the North-West of England. He is an associate member of the Swedish-to-English literary translators association, and he previously lived and worked in Sweden for eight years. He has published three collections of translations of Scandinavian folk ballads: Lord Peter and Little Kerstin (2013), Warrior Lore (2014), and The Faraway North (2016).
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I enjoyed the translations quite a bit – while as an English speaker I can’t talk with authority about the quality of the translations, it seems to me that effort was made to keep the metre true to the original works, although in some cases this can result in a little bit of awkward repetition and rewording. However, from the extensive notes included I’m confident that every effort was made to remain as faithful to the source material as possible. It’s also worth noting that a lot of the ballads are honestly great fun to read, and if you have an interest in the subject it’s very cool to get an idea of the influence of Christianity and the outside world on medieval Scandinavia.
The introductions were nicely done, and gave a good amount of context to each following ballad while leaving them open enough to a little interpretation from the reader. One thing I will say is that I understand Cumpstey’s choice to keep it focused and somewhat objective from a purely academic viewpoint, but I’d perhaps have liked to get a more personal look at his interpretations and general excitement about the subject matter. In the moments that his personality comes through, the book really shines.
While it’s not a fantasy novel in the regular sense, I had a good time with this one. I think that if you enjoy the Sagas and the Eddas and you’re already interested in the subject, this is an easy 4 stars and something rather lovely to dip into.
The amount of work that went into these translations is commendable. He includes a list of resources in the back index, showing that he translated the ballads often from multiple sources.
The organization is also another fantastic thing about this collection. Each successive ballad feels like a natural progression. There is quite a range in topics, too, but we also get to see some of the similarities between seemingly different ballads. For example, phrases like “red gold” appear often throughout the collection. It is interesting to see how this multitude of ballads uses similar language while telling different tales. While there is a range, nothing feels out of place.
The translations themselves are readable, while keeping with the style of the originals, including rhyme, repetition, and meter. I personally feel like sometimes the wording suffered in order to fit in a rhyme; however, these were few and far between and didn’t at all affect my enjoyment of the collection.
My only real qualm is with the introductions. I wanted more than just, “Here is what the ballad is about.” And we got that on some of the ballads, such as the introduction to the last four. But sometimes I felt that some of the introductions were there out of necessity (i.e., because every ballad had to have one), but they didn’t add anything new (insight, translation method, something about the culture, etc.) to the ballad itself.
All in all, this is a great collection of Scandinavian folk ballads. If you need some good ol’ fashion trolls in your life, give this book a try.
(Thank you to the author for providing a copy for review.)
This particular selection of ballads chronicles various heroic quests, such as those involving knights rescuing damsels from mythical beasts, suitors vying for the hand of a maiden, as well as those undertaken by legendary heroes, e.g. Sigurd the Dragon Killer, and Sven Felding.
The Christian men are painted almost as Saints, while the mythical creatures seem to be the personification of all that is evil. However, one could also infer that the Christian men are the devil in a guise, waiting patiently to strip young maidens of their innocents, while these 'monsters' seek mainly to protect instead.
This collection includes beautifully tragic scenes that are well written and will probe at your heart. Ian Cumpstey has done a marvellous job of translating these ballads into English so that countless others may go on to enjoy them. A masterpiece of translation. Easily 4 stars.
Most recent customer reviews
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.Read more
If you like folklore and mythology this is a great little read. It is educational and entertaining.Read more